Department of Public Safety looks to expand button security system

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The security button would be used to lock every door in some type of catastrophe or significant event when it would be in the best interest of the community, DPS Associate Chief John Sardino said.

Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety is looking to expand a system that can lock every building on campus in an emergency with a single push of a button.

This safety initiative was launched several years ago and upgraded following an off-campus shooting last year, but now officials are hoping to overhaul the entire system. The button would be used to lock every door in some type of catastrophe or significant event when it would be in the best interest of the community, said DPS Associate Chief John Sardino. When the doors are locked, card swipe access would still unlock doors.

“We have the capability with basically one stroke to lock any exterior door on campus that is controlled electronically,” Sardino said. “We also have the capability to individually lock certain buildings.”

The current system excludes buildings with a “historical value” including Hendricks Chapel, which is in the process of having new doors installed to work with the system. Sardino said DPS is trying to manage how to put the doors on electronic control without damaging historical value.

While officials see the capability to lock all doors remotely as a major safety improvement for the campus community, there is more that can be done. Christopher Stewart, an automation engineer, said the department is looking to replace the entire system within the next few years. This would include integrating the door alarms with the video camera system on campus.

“It’s almost at the end of its life cycle at this point,” Stewart said.

DPS installed the original system following THE General Body’s sit-in in November 2014 in Crouse-Hinds Hall, but they were not aware of its full potential at first. It was only used to lock individual buildings, but Stewart found a way to do more with it. Using the same technology that was already in place, he made adjustments, allowing the system to lock every door or select buildings with one click.

The technology is housed in the Emergency Communications Center where all employees are trained in using it. But the decision to push the button to use can only be made by the chief, assistant chief or one of the commanders.

“We can see the potential need to be able to, in a very quick period of time, lock the entire campus down if we had to,” Sardino said. “For me, in my position, it just makes sense for us to do that.”

The system has not been used yet except for tests.

An example of when the system could have been used was following an Oct. 9 traffic stop, when a Syracuse police officer shot and killed a man near Walnut Park after the driver fired shots at him. Sardino said the only reason it wasn’t used was because on that Sunday night, all the buildings in the adjacent area were already locked. He added that if the button is used, an associated Orange Alert would be sent.

Sardino said a project that he expected to have a six-figure price tag didn’t cost the department anything because of Stewart, who was able to utilize existing technology.

“That’s one of the benefits of the system we have, is that it’s a sandbox where you can really go in and program it to do whatever you need it to do,” said Stewart, who joined the university in 1999 in housing services, but moved to the division of campus safety and emergency services in January.

Jim Santoferrara, DPS manager of communications, said this complements the Orange Alert system, which sends notifications to the campus community.

“Not only can we lock down the buildings, but we can advise everyone what to do during an emergency situation,” Santoferrara said. “And with everybody with their cellphones, it goes out as texts, emails and phone calls, so that keeps everyone up to date to the minute.”

The University of California, Los Angeles has gone as far as considering a lock system for every classroom door on campus after a murder-suicide last June. After the tragedy, several students, faculty and staff spoke out about the need for installing such technology. Locking interior doors with a single click wasn’t discussed by SU officials, who say that just having the ability to lock exterior doors across campus within seconds has provided an unprecedented level of safety at SU.

Although SU wants to keep its students safe and have the most efficient technology in the industry, the current system has come a long way from its inauguration.

“I think it’s made campus a lot safer,” Santoferrara said. “Just the mere fact that we can lock down a single building or the entire campus with the click of one computer mouse. If there’s a danger somewhere, we can lock it down and keep it under control.”


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